Monday, December 14, 2020

Dry Creek Garden, Union City, California

By Jeff Bennett

My name is Jeff Bennett. I am the gardener at Dry Creek Garden in Union City, California. Dry Creek Garden was one of the tour gardens in the 2019 American Iris Society’s National Convention “The Sun Sets on Rainbows”. 

Iris garden at Dry Creek during the 2019 National.

I will be writing a series of articles on Dry Creek as a garden, its history, how the iris area was established, and my own little history growing irises.

My Background:

I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, very close to the bay itself, in what is called a banana belt. This means you have almost zero chance of frost. This is due to the influence of the bay waters preventing the below freezing temperatures from reaching this area. However, if you go a mile or two inland, you will get frost. A micro climate indeed.

Dry Creek in the fall.

Growing up with a decent sized yard, we had just a few iris colors growing. A few yellow and of course the deep velvety purple. I was always fascinated seeing them for the short period I did, then to return the following year. Such a long time to wait. But ahh, the velvety purple ones would sometimes bloom again in the Fall. I knew there were white ones as I had seen some in other people’s yards. I knew what they were called because I asked my mom but never much more interest than that as I did not know of the OTHERS(!).

Fast forward to 1991. A friend, knowing how much I liked plants and flowers, found an advertisement in a magazine for an iris catalog. She ordered it for me. When I opened that catalog, I was astonished to see the colors. Wow! They have names? There’s brand new ones? There’s really old ones that aren’t just yellow, purple or white? It was a Schreiner’s catalog. The Cadillac of iris catalogs! So I’m sure I spent evenings trying to decide which ones to order and how much I really wanted to spend in total. I probably got about 20 or so. Those arrived that fall and got planted. Then I discovered another company. Cooley’s. There’s two Cadillacs now!

The third catalog I discovered was Stockton Iris gardens. Another catalog with great photos. This is all of course, pre-internet. Heck, I didn’t even have a credit card. Orders and checks were mailed off. Within a few years I had 200 varieties of iris growing on an acre. This is where life kicks in. Had a retail business since 1987, got married, two children, and no time. Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts took over for many years. Still growing the iris that survived a move and being in bags a few months before getting planted. Had to ID them as they bloomed. 'Ecstatic Echo', 'Dusky Challenger', 'Kentucky Derby', and, of course, 'Crimson King'.

Dry Creek Garden in the fall

Through the early 2000’s I discovered an iris booth at a street fair. The Mt. Diablo Iris Society had their tables set up with tubs of iris rhizomes for sale. Jackpot! I could try to replace some of those lost. I picked out the names of the irises I knew. Didn’t know the newer ones, so I stuck to the newer ones.

Jeff Bennet at Dry Creek with a few tools of the trade.

By 2013 I began working as a gardener at Dry Creek Garden. Noticing Irises hidden among the other plantings, I was looking forward to see what the following Spring would show me. The following year, I was introduced to Shirley Trio by Dave Shaw. He said she was looking for a garden that could grow and display irises at an upcoming convention and wanted to know if the garden I worked at would be interested.

Till the next chapter.....